NL West Rumblings Have Division Gearing Up for Potentially Epic 2nd Half

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IJune 6, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01:  Cliff Pennington #4 of the Arizona Diamondbacks signals to his teammates against the San Francisco Giants at Chase Field on May 1, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Norm Hall/Getty Images

If you had to describe the National League West's showing thus far in the 2013 Major League Baseball season with a single word, it would have to be "disappointing."

Back in late March, the general consensus around the baseball universe was that the NL West would be a three-team dogfight at the top. In some circles, two of those teams emerged from the scrum with a ticket to the postseason in hand.

As the calendar turns to June, however, the division has been more pillow fight than rugged jockeying for playoff position.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have been about as good as advertised, maybe even better. The other preseason darlings—the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers—haven't honored their ends of the bargain.

The Giants are staying the course and sit within striking distance of the Snakes. But it's been a tortuous, inconsistent and, at times, downright ugly course. The Sucka Free has seen a few ill-timed injuries such as Ryan Vogelsong's broken hand and the nagging issues plaguing Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval, but the story of the Giants' struggles begins and ends with the starting pitching.

To put it bluntly, Matt Cain and company have been bad.

If you isolate the starters, San Francisco's bunch lands well down in the bottom third of Fangraphs' WAR field. For the purists out there who prefer a more traditional metric, the ERA and WHIP versions ain't much better. Barry Zito has been a solid contributor since the start of 2012, but something is seriously amiss when he is one of the Gents' most valuable starters.

The Dodgers' campaign has been even more grotesque, marred by underachieving players with big-money contracts and health issues galore.

Zack Greinke's ill-advised decision to meet a hard-charging Carlos Quentin shoulder-to-shoulder resulted in a decent stay on the disabled list. Matt Kemp was scuffling before making a DL trip of his own. Hanley Ramirez is back in the lineup now, but he has fewer plate appearances in '13 than the Bums have games played, and by a wide margin. Carl Crawford was actually playing like the Carl Crawford of old before he limped onto the shelf alongside Kemp with a gimpy hamstring.

All of which helps explain why los Doyers are sputtering along at the bottom of the division.

But it is only June and the baseball season is a long one.

We're not even to the halfway point, either as announced by the All-Star break or by teams playing their 81st games. In other words, there's plenty of time for the Giants and Dodgers to right their ships, which would deliver the epic free-for-all many observers expected and in time for the stretch run.

Consider that the D-Backs aren't going anywhere.

With Patrick Corbin and Paul Goldschmidt occupying the superstar void created when Justin Upton was traded away, Arizona's biggest question mark heading into '13 has been answered and emphatically.

Corbin is undefeated, has already tallied nine wins, boasts an earned run average right around two, a WHIP checking in around one and he's annihilating the competition to the tune of an OPS around .600.

As for Goldschmidt, Tim Lincecum's personal bogeyman has expanded on that role and is currently terrorizing major-league pitching with little discretion. The Diamondbacks first baseman has been one of MLB's top 10 most valuable players (according to Fangraphs' WAR).

The young southpaw is bound to cool off, but only because it's relatively hard to go undefeated when you make 30-plus starts. Goldschmidt, however, is posting more sustainable numbers according to the advanced metrics. The average should come down given a somewhat abnormal BABIP, but that's not a given and the rest of the picture looks equally reasonable.

Add to the equation a deep, young roster and more reinforcements champing at the bit in the farm system, and you have a legitimate contender that the league must take seriously. Now and for the foreseeable future.

Then, you have the 2012 defending World Series champions.

Although the faithful are understandably panicked about the wayward starting pitching, that it is the root of los Gigantes' struggles is probably good news.

If it were the offense that was throwing rods and basically making baseball life in the Bay Area miserable, San Francisco might have a problem without an obvious fix. Ditto if the injury bug were wiping out wide swaths of the clubhouse.

By comparison, the starters have been the backbone of the franchise ever since it waved goodbye to Barry Bonds.

It is hard to believe that Cainer will pitch this poorly for the duration of the season. As Lincecum's last 18 months of baseball have shown, anything can happen, but we're talking about one of the more consistent starters in the game for the last few years.

Madison Bumgarner has scuffled every now and again, but he's as filthy as ever so the front of the Giants' rotation should settle back into a familiarly dominant groove.

The back end is more muddled with Zito stuck in a one-step-forward-one-step-back pattern of quality starts followed by faceplants and Vogey on the mend from an injury that derailed him just as he was apparently figuring out his nightmarish season. Lincecum is the wild card. If he can smooth out his ragged '13 and author more starts like the seven-inning gem he spun against the Toronto Blue Jays at AT&T Park, SF will be sitting pretty.

If not, the club will be forced to rely more heavily on its bats than it has in recent years, but that's not a deal-breaker any more. The offense surfaces amongst the 10 most productive in all of baseball as Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro and others have dosed up the potency—though Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval still make the whole thing go.

Most importantly, San Francisco hasn't been playing very good baseball and yet is still pushing Arizona atop the division. Given the Gents' recent success when the bright lights hit and that they've been able to tread water thus far, the fellas look like a team that will figure in the race down the stretch.

Which brings us to the ugliest duckling in the group: the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Of the preseason NL West favorites, the Bums are in the most trouble. Conveniently, they're also the team that figures to improve the most over the next few months.

Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez are humming along as Kershaw once again looks like the best pitcher in the game while Gonzalez is raking. Granted, Gonzalez has lost some of the power that was once a staple of his game, but that gaudy slash line still plays as does his defense at first base. Hyun-Jin Ryu requires a nod as well—the South Korean import is dealing with a foot issue at the moment, but he's been dazzling the opposition during his first tour of the majors.

Furthermore, help is on the way.

Greinke has been shaky since rejoining the team, but even if he never lives up to his massive contract, he'll be an asset at the front of the Bums' rotation. Kemp clearly wasn't healthy in the early going, so a couple weeks cooling his heels and resting his shoulder should be good for what ails him. Again, even if he falls short of lofty expectations, he'll be an improvement over what he had been thus far in '13. Same goes for Ramirez and Crawford.

Oh, and then there's this guy.

Yasiel Puig will probably not launch multiple home runs in every game he plays, but the kid looks every bit as good as promised. If his first foray into the Bigs is any indication, the Cuban prospect ain't going anywhere. Since he's already made the baseball world sit up and take notice using both his bat and arm, I'd say he's here to stay.

That's trouble for the rest of the division.

Injecting Puig's exuberance and talent into LA's star-studded clubhouse should make it considerably more dangerous. With the Diamondbacks cruising and the Giants hanging around, the Dodgers would make three.

And three's a crowd.

Which is great news for the fans because, if everything comes together, the battle for NL West supremacy should be a hell of a show.


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